US GP: Thursday press conference

Present: Fernando Alonso (Renault) Cristiano da Matta (Toyota) Juan Pablo Montoya (Williams) Kimi Raikkonen (McLaren) Michael Schumacher (Ferrari) Jacques Villeneuve (BAR) Q: Fernando, first of all, your feelings for this race? Fernando...

Fernando Alonso (Renault)
Cristiano da Matta (Toyota)
Juan Pablo Montoya (Williams)
Kimi Raikkonen (McLaren)
Michael Schumacher (Ferrari)
Jacques Villeneuve (BAR)

Q: Fernando, first of all, your feelings for this race?

Fernando Alonso: It will be a tough race for us because the characteristic of the circuit is not fantastic for our car. But you know, we are confident in the tyres. They should work fantastic (sic) here. And, you know, we have a new spec engine with a little more power. So that should help. We'll see, but will be a tough race we think.

Q: Do you think you can get in amongst these three?

FA: It will be difficult because they are fighting for the championship and they will be very strong here. But, you know, in Monza, which was a difficult race for us I started from the back with one lap less than the others. At the end, I finished eighth with a difficult car to drive and everything. So with a normal race, even in Monza, we were quite competitive. Here we can do something if we work well tomorrow morning in the test session and maybe we can have an advantage here because, as you said, this track is new for everybody basically because we cannot test even the season here. Maybe the test session is a big help for us here.

Q: The team was saying that was a pretty heroic drive at Monza; the car was probably in fairly average condition.

FA: Yes, was very damaged after the first crash and the other start. Then I miss the second chicane and I lost a few pieces more. Yeah, it was very damaged but still quick.

Q: But it wasn't underweight because of all the bits that had fallen off?

FA: No, because I didn't lose too much weight because I lost carbon pieces, you know, some grams only.

Q: OK, thanks, Fernando. Well done. Jacques, you had a fairly good race at Monza as well. Was that encouraging?

Jacques Villeneuve: It was fun to finally have a race where we could show what we could do. The car lasted until the end, and we had no problems.

Q: There have been fairly interesting ideas about how you're going to keep your drive with BAR, what are your feelings about those?

JV: You make it sound as if I'm begging to stay with the team. It's right now the team is looking to see if I'm the right driver for them; but on the other hand, I have to see if it's the right team for me as well.

Q: Obviously, you've got a great following here in North America as you have for many, many years, this huge number of fans even in this room, as well. What can I tell them about your career for next year?

JV: Right now there's nothing exciting to say. Two more races to go, and that's all I know.

Q: Cristiano, similarly, here you are back in North America where you spent some past few years. What are your feelings about coming back and racing Formula One here?

Cristiano da Matta: Well, for me just to be back in America is a great feeling again, a chance to see many people I haven't seen for a year now. So it's a good feeling. It's going to be my first time racing in this circuit, not even in the oval I haven't been here before because obviously I was racing CART, not in the area, also. It's going to be a new experience for me but it's exciting for me to be here, just a chance to see a lot of good friends.

Q: How much do you feel you've changed in the last year since you were racing here?

CdM: I think I'm the same.

Q: Not changed at all?

CdM: No, I think everything is the same.

Q: How would you say your workload has changed in the last year?

CdM: Testing-wise, I have a lot more this year than I had last year. Racing, I had a lot less races than I had last year. Especially at this time of the year, the schedule here in North America is quite busy, so I was quite busy at this time last year. But overall probably working a little bit harder, especially on the PR side.

Q: OK, thanks, Cristiano. Juan Pablo, your aim obviously this weekend is to stay in contention in the championship. Has anything changed?

Juan Pablo Montoya: Not really. It's 'go out there and do what we can'. It's three-point difference, and we can narrow the gap, so it could be ideal. We've got to try to stay in contention with Michael and make sure Kimi doesn't get ahead of us either. So it's going to be quite interesting race, but I think we should have a very good race here.

Q: What about the fact that it's going for a lot of noisy Colombians in the grandstand this weekend?

JPM: It's nice to see a lot of support here, a lot of Colombians and a lot of Americans here, as well, from my years in CART. I think for the Americans when I won Indy, it was a big thing, and they remember that, and I got a lot of support out of that. So it's good.

Q: One of the questions that a lot of the specialists in Britain want to know is how are you going to get out of your Williams contract to drive for McLaren?

JPM: First of all, I have a Williams contract for the end of '04, and then I am a free agent. As far as I know I'm driving for Williams next year.

Q: So you don't need to get out of it?

JPM: Not really.

Q: Thank you very much, Juan Pablo. Michael, you have a fantastic record here; pole every year, a couple of second places and a first. How does that mean that you come to this race?

Michael Schumacher: You know I don't think what happens in the past relates very much to what will happen this year. It's a new start, and we have to see what we can do.

Q: You spoke about Ferrari, the challenge of Monza and the fact that they had the result, you had the result you had at Monza, fighting talk I think was something that was associated with the fact that they've woken up almost a sleeping giant, your rivals. Do you think that's going to continue for the next couple of races?

MS: How you mean sleeping giant?

Q: Well, that they had awoken Ferrari up. Perhaps, not that they were asleep, having said that, but perhaps that you had to work on the car so much for Monza that, you know, the car is now the top as it was before.

MS: Yeah. (Laughter).

Q: So what's the reaction, what's your feeling about that as you come into the next few races?

MS: As I said before, I think we have a good car, we have a good package. We have worked very intense on every option last week. We feel we are very well prepared, but at this stage, less talking, more showing is better.

Q: OK. Thanks, Michael. Come on to Kimi, do you feel greater pressure now that there's a little bit more of a gap than there was?

Kimi Raikkonen: Not really. I think we just need to do our own things and try to be quicker than those two guys.

Q: What about your preparations for this race?

KR: Exactly the same as before. We had the testing and mainly concentrate on the tires. But I think our car should be more prepared here against Williams here and Ferrari than it was in the last race, at least I hope.

Q: Do you look at your own record here?

KR: Actually, I haven't finished a race so far here, but it has been many, many other circuits, also, where before I haven't done very well, and then this year has been going much better.

Q: So you are not unconfident of coming here anyway?

KR: No, I think the car was quite good here last year even though I was running with the nine cylinder at the end of the race, but I think it should be quite good.

Q: For Michael. When was the last time you were in a fight for a championship that was this close coming toward the end of the season?

MS: '94, '95, 2000.

Q: '97?

JV: '97. (Laughter)

MS: We had the second-to-last race.

Q: Does it make any difference that it's been essentially such a long time since you were in a close fight? Does it add any more excitement or pressure for you?

MS: No, I don't think so. It's exciting, it's good. We are strong; we won the last race. We obviously believe in ourselves and the rest is, you take it as it comes, and you do your best.

Q: Michael, when the rules package was announced last year, did you envision that the race would be this tight at this stage of the season?

MS: I don't think that the rules in itself make the situation as tight as it is right now, in all honesty. They have created some excitement in certain areas and made less in other areas. Depends who you ask. But at the end of the day, the reason why the competition is so tight is that simply the teams are much closer together than they have ever been.

Q: Michael, Juan, the wheel-to-wheel stuff at Monza, the first lap, fantastic excitement for us watching it. Do you think that sort of set the tone for the competition between you going forward for the next two years' races because you enjoy it yourself?

MS: I think we have had a few of those, and Monza was one of those, and who knows what comes next?

Q: Jacques, every day there's a new rumor about you and that's picked up by the newspapers and magazines. Does that unsettle you or do you ignore that stuff about shootouts and Sato coming in and everything happening?

JV: Rumors are powerful, and sometimes they're rumors because people get bored and they hear something that a friend of them told them and so on. Sometimes they're created on purpose to push people in some direction or other. I don't really see much what is going on, but I'm being told most of the time what happens. But a lot of entertainment.

Q: Yes, one question for Juan Pablo and then one for Fernando. Juan Pablo, would you feel more confident if (Marc) Gene is starting instead of Ralf?

JPM: Not really. I think Marc did a great job in replacing Ralf in the last race, and I think it was good to keep us in the constructor championship, but I don't think it will change anything really. I think probably for the team Ralf has more experience than Marc, and I think coming here would be a good thing. Marc has never driven here, and Ralf has. I think that would make a big difference for the points championship.

Q: Fernando, it looks as though you've accomplished more than your expectations so far this season already, but there are still two races left, this one and Japan. Are you confident of perhaps taking another podium?

FA: Yeah, always, when we have a positive weekend we try to get another podium or another good result. Obviously the expectations are already surpassed because we have had better results that we expected and probably here or in Suzuka, we will enjoy the race, do the maximum again and why not another podium.

Q: Juan Pablo, I'm sure you go to every Grand Prix hoping and trying to win it, but does it make a difference knowing that this weekend really to stay in contention you've almost got to win this race?

JPM: No. It's kind of odd but I don't have to win the race. But with the idea of going for the Constructors and everything I need to make sure I finish in front of Michael and Kimi and that doesn't make it necessary to win. If we're running in the top three positions then yeah. I think the way the championships might is that whoever wins the Drivers might win the Constructors as well because he's probably going to have the best car and that's going to make a difference. We have to wait and see what happens.

Q: Cristiano, there's always great interest in America when a CART champion goes to Formula One. The big question is how much more difficult is it, how much tougher is it? Have you found it a lot different, have you found it a lot tougher than you anticipated or can you describe what makes it so much more difficult?

CdM: Well, definitely the biggest difficulty there is is because the two series are so different, so you come into a new series, you have to learn many many different news things. You just have to go through these processes of getting used to everything all over again and that's why it's difficult.

Q: From a car standpoint, what is the one thing that's more difficult to get completely on top of compared to what you're used to here in the States?

CdM: On the car standpoint, basically it's the braking, just in Formula One you can brake deeper and also brake and turning at the same time, a lot more than you can do in CART. I'm not sure if this is due to the grooved tyres or due to the weight of the car, just for the whole technology of the car but that's the biggest difficulty. And that makes the driving style a bit different too because in Formula One these days there's not much of a mid-corner part of the turn, there's only the entry and the exit while in most of the other cars I've ever driven in my life you always have the mid-corner part of the corner so this should change your mind, just to do that naturally, I think it takes a little while.

Q: To the three contenders in the championship: finishing the race might be one of the keys with two races to go. Is reliability something you have in your mind more than usual, and has your team worked on this in testing, for example.

JPM: Not really. I think that the team should try to do something different. The car's been very reliable all year. If you tried to come up with new things, you'd probably do more harm than good. I think it's more finding more performance in the car, new aeros things, new mechanical things, that are going to make a difference. I think the tyres are going to be a big thing in the last two races. And the tyres are going our way.

MS: Yeah, pretty much the same. You keep developing, you concentrate the same as before. You always concentrate on finishing the race, being reliable and keep improving and it's probably the same for everyone.

Q: Are McLaren doing anything special here?

KR: No. We've had a few problems before, but actually my car has only had one real problem when the engine went in one of the races but otherwise it has been really reliable and we just try to get quicker.

Q: For the three guys in the back row: you know the cars and the competitors in the front row, could I ask each of you who do you think is going to be World Champion?

JV: For once it's very open so it's impossible to know. Obviously Kimi's car seems to have been a little bit less competitive in the second half of the season, but he's close enough that if the two guys in the front fight and go off then he will get all the points so it's quite open and that makes it exciting. I think it's great for F1.

CdM: I think it's what Jacques said. It's so open and also especially the Ferrari and the Williams, they are so close, it depends so much on even weather conditions. Whatever tyre works in whatever situation , in case of rain -- I think it's just wide open right now.

FA: I totally agree.

Q: Michael, you have a new qualifying format this year with one lap. How has that affected the drivers' thinking as far as qualifying, and how has it affected the fields?

MS: At the end of the day, when you go out and you start your qualifying lap, all you do is you concentrate and you focus 100 percent on that and it has always been the same in the past. The difference is that you probably had three or four shots in the past and now you have just the one. But my approach was always the same, the first shot was the most important and I had the same priority for all other moments, so it wasn't like start off slow and then improve. It was go for it straight and now it's just the one opportunity. You don't think about that, you just do whatever you can.

Q: Juan Pablo, when you were here in June were you a little surprised by the level of publicity and attention that that generated in the United States?

JPM: I think that that was really good for Formula One to get more attention for this race. I think of the number of people who come here is amazing, but the point is that the grandstands are so big that it looks half empty but it's probably the race over the year -- generally for the year. I think people, if they can get to understand Formula One more they are going to love it even more. I think it was good for F1. I think it was a good thing we did. I had fun driving the NASCAR, but I'll stick to F1 to be honest.

Q: Jacques, next year will the tenth anniversary of your victory in the 500, does it seem like that long ago, or does it seem that time has flown by?

JV: A lot has happened since then, but it's still a great memory, it's still fresh.

Q: Michael, if you make the sixth title, do you think you'll be strong enough to focus and put pressure on yourself to go for a seventh or just relax and see who can ever equal this?

MS: I'm still thinking about sixth one honestly and that's the main focus I'm having and I think it will be a difficult thing to achieve. For me, since 2000, when I won the championship for Ferrari that was the main target and everything since then has been for pleasure and as long as I have fun, and I feel that I have that for many more years, then whatever comes is great.

Q: Juan, talking about your fans, today you were face-to-face with your fans, what sort of reception did you get from them when you were right with them?

JPM: I think it's nice to give them something back. There are a lot of Colombians here and Americans and they don't really get to see too many F1 races and the drivers, so it was nice to just go out there and sign a couple of autographs. I stayed 20 minutes there and they really appreciate that. F1 is completely different than in America, you find you don't have access to go anywhere. You never really see the drivers, so I thought it was a good thing to do.

Q: Jacques, one of the stories going around is that your attitude doesn't fit that of the team. You give 100 percent. How do you answer the critics that say that you don't fit in with the teams, the way they work and so on?

JV: As I said before, rumours are created to make people believe things to clear your shoulders or whatever. I've never worked as hard as the last couple of years and also I've never had as little fun in racing as in the last two years. But my work ethics have been very good. If you ask anybody I work with then you will hear the real truth about that.

Q: I'd like to know from the three title contenders how they spent the days before coming here and considering the track's characteristics, how they feel about their car here?

KR: Actually I just came here on Tuesday, straight from home and have just been easy and relaxed before the race. But I guess we already answered the question as to how our car will suit (the track). Hopefully it will be good here, hope better than in Monza. We don't really know. We need to wait and see.

MS: Basically I left straight after testing last week. Went to Vegas for a couple of days and then had a little tour around and came here yesterday. On the car side, well, we'll probably have much more to say that we tried specifically to work for this circuit, have another better engine here and worked very hard on the tyre side. So let's hope that works out.

Q: How were you received in Vegas? Sometimes you've found that you can move around very easily in America?

MS: Same case.

JPM: I just went to Miami. Took some radio-controlled planes out flying them and Saturday went to Jacksonville race that my brother was in.

Q: And the car?

JPM: Ah good. (Laughter)

Q: It seems to be suspected wisdom, that Suzuka seems to be pretty much your speciality, your track. So if you get a good result here, does that necessarily mean that this race here is the last chance for the two on either side of you?

MS: No, I don't think so because I think this year it's not clear at all what circuits suit you. As well with the development in the final stage of the season is very important and you might be a little bit behind here but then you improve your car just a bit and it will be enough to be up front, because everything is so tight.

Q: Michael, with regard to your career accomplishments so far. Thinking back to May of 1994 when I believe you said at the time that after Ayrton's death you wondered for a few days whether you would be able to continue. Looking back on that time, was that, indeed, a crossroads for your career and did you even imagine at that point that you might be able to accomplish even more than Ayrton?

MS: I think that in terms of racing this has obviously been one of the worst days in my life because I have never been confronted with death in this sport I love and on the same weekend, we had two drivers having a bad accident and passing away. It has been a big shock, honestly, and I think it will be pretty natural that if you think of not being sure whether you want to continue that, you don't have any imagination for what might happen in the future.

Q: For all of you: if you, personally, had the choice next year to keep one lap qualifying or go back to what it was last year, would you keep the one lap qualifying. Kimi?

KR: I'm happy with it.

MS: Don't care, honestly.

JPM: Whatever, either way, don't care.

CdM: I've never tried the other way.

JV: It's seems to have been good for the championship, so if it's good for F1, it's good for everybody.

FA: Same, keep it.

Q: Michael, can I ask you about Vegas? It's not an obvious place to go for a break. Why did you chose Vegas and did you gamble? (Laughter)

MS: No. (Off: the girls) I was with my wife. (Laughter) Basically, I was invited by Guy Laliberte (Cirque du Soleil) who had a new show opening and we went there to see that, because we wanted to go somewhere so it just worked out to have a good time there for a weekend with friends, meet up and gambling is not my strong thing, no. I did a bit but very little.

Q: What did you actually gamble on?

MS: Just went a bit for the slot machines. I'm a small gambler.

Q: Did you win?

MS: No. Yes, actually I did. Experience (Laughter).

Q: What about the show?

MS: It was interesting different. Very different.

Q: Fernando, how much has your life changed since Hungary and do you have to back in Asturias in your hometown?

FA: Well, a little bit. You can imagine after the first victory, you are much more popular and after winning, you are in the newspapers and on TV for one day. People start to recognise you a little bit more but it's still not a problem because in Spain, Formula One is still not very big. It's still OK.

Q: Michael, were you able to move about the casinos freely and relatively unbothered by people or do people now recognise you? And also what sized slot machines did you play: the one dollar, the 25 cent, the five cent? (Laughter)

MS: One cent (Laughter). No, I move very freely around. There are a few European guys who hang out there on holiday who recognise me but usually I'm not recognised by Americans, not even coming here and checking into the hotel, which I thought was good.


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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya
Teams Ferrari , McLaren , Williams